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Misra

Singer-songwriter Chris Lee played the Black Cat last week, and the show, which began with three in the audience and finished with about 10 (including bar workers and the headlining band), was one of the best rock gigs I’ve ever witnessed. The show’s excellence, however, had little to do with the band members’ performance, which was fine, if unanimated (and who could blame them?); rather, it had everything to do with hearing—and getting lost in—Lee’s pristine tenor. I haven’t felt this passionate about a singer’s vox since Jeff Buckley busted onto the scene in the early ’90s—and it’s Buckley whose voice Lee’s most recalls. Lee’s self-titled debut is an excellent document of his white-boy soulisms: Imagine Buckley minus the Robert Plantisms or the Black Crowes’ Chris Robinson minus the 20 years of constant bud inhalation. But unlike Buckley or Robinson, Lee sings over not hard-edged rock, but jazz-inflected pop. “Thom’s Bells” recalls Unrest’s crisp jangle-rock, and “Angel,” with its “doot doo doo” backing vocals, sounds like a soul-pop nugget unearthed from the ’70s. In additional to his heavenly voice and his harmonically shifting tunes, what raises Lee out of the indie-rock minor leagues and into the major-league songwriters’ ballpark are his lyrics, which are sexually charged (“I Can’t Make Love to You Anymore”) and literate (“(Please Don’t Be My) Maud Gonne”). The peppy singalong “The Sexual Politics of Me” positively oozes with the dirty deed: “Maybe I’m the king of swine/But I find the flesh divine/I am sexual everything/That’s the sexual politics of me.” But coming as they do via Lee’s passionate croon, those words sound not lascivious but inviting. The next time Lee plays D.C., I urge you to come hither. —Christopher Porter